The young and virtuous physician's daughter Helena desperately loves Count Bertram, but he regards her as beneath his notice. When Helena cures the king of France of a mortal illness, he rewards her with Bertram's hand, but before their marriage can be consummated the count flees. To win her husband back again, Helena forms a daring and resourceful plan. A plot to unmask the strutting soldier Parolles makes up another strand in this sometimes disturbing comedy of deception and disguise.
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The most clearly problematic of Shakespeare's "Problem Plays" . Don't get me wrong. I love the dark, ambiguous, almost nihilistically modern tone of this period of Shakespeare. I think the peak of the three plays is clearly 1st: Measure for Measure, followed by 2nd: Troilus and Cressida, and 3rd: lastly, this.
To b@stardize a line from Shakespeare's M4M to fit my cause and purpose:
"They say, best men plays are moulded out of faults, And, for the most, become much more the better For being a little bad."
Anyway, one of the redemptions of All's Well is Shakespeare is playing us and not just the players. He KNOWS audiences want resolution. He KNOWS it pays to let the boy get the girl. Hell, movies today show we are no different. We don't want ambiguity too much. We want a hero who gets the girl. Shakespeare says fine. I'll give you a nominal hero (who in reality is a real dick) and feed him (per request) to the girl. She will get what she wants (in the end) and the audience will get what they essentially keep demanding (in the end). And the result will be bitter. To again paraphrase H.L. Mencken who was talking about voters and democracy, fits also for theatre patrons. Shakespeare knows "that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." It is all very modern of Shakespeare and also very human. Just not humane.
One more point about this play. I adore Parolles. He isn't nearly as perfect as Iago later will be, but like Lucio from M4M and Thersites in T&C carries some of the best lines in the play.
Some of my favorite lines (just a brief sample):
― “Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living.” (Act 1, Scene 1).
― “my idolatrous fancy Must sanctify his reliques." (Act 1, Scene 1).
― “When thou hast leisure, say thy prayers. When thou hast none, remember thy friends." (Act 1, Scene 1).
― “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to heaven." (Act 1, Scene 1).
― “see that you come Not to woo honour, but to wed it" (Act 2, Scene 1).
― “My art is not past power, nor you past cure." (Act 2, Scene 1).
― “Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear." (Act 2, Scene 3).